Last Sunday, I convinced a cab driver to bring four of us from the BWI train station to DC for $15 each. This ride typically costs at least $80, the train wasn’t coming for 45 minutes and if we did wait it was going to be $21 each anyway. He got a really bad deal but not because I drove a hard bargain. On the contrary, all I did was ask.
This wasn’t exactly a hard negotiation but knowing these points from my b-school negotiation course definitely helped in this case and almost on a daily basis.
- You’re your own barrier: It goes without saying but is worth a reminder that you can’t get what you don’t ask for. One of the most practical assignments I did in grad school was “collecting nos,” an exercise to ask people for things until I got 10 people to say “no” to me. We couldn’t ask the same person twice or use a question twice. It was a clever and effective way to teach that almost everything is up for discussion and barriers to “yes” are often self-made fear of rejection and lack of creativity to look for win-wins. Interestingly, of the more than 25 questions I asked, the most straightforward “no” was from a passer-by in Dupont Circle when I asked “Can I give you a dollar?” (with dollar in hand).
- No one has to lose: There seems to be a widely held perception that negotiation is about winning and losing. In a successful negotiation, everyone walks away with something they want and the process is more about side-by-side problem solving that competition. Ideally, a negotiation is an opportunity to explore options, expand the pie and uncover the different sides interests to see how to find a middle ground. It’s about the problem not the two people working through it. Food for thought: If you ask who is winning in a marriage, your marriage is in trouble. This is true for negotiation as well.
- Work on the relationship first: I heard somewhere recently that trust is a mutual understanding of behavior. Start with all the things we do subconsciously with people we care about - be patient, make eye contact, appear vulnerable, listen to understand not to respond, be authentic, find common ground, use “I statements.” Avoid a god-like voice because the expression the “truth is” puts people off. Instead, speak for your self and represent a point of view not the point of view and you’re more likely to have the other side open up. If the other side isn’t doing any of these things, call them out. It’s hard to believe but being called out on tactics will make your negotiation partner like you more.
- 85% of success is tied to preparation: As Phil Reed of Edmunds.com, the car buying site, says, “Smart negotiating is based on as much information as you can get.” The mistake a lot of people make in preparation is spending their time researching their needs and wants instead of understanding the other side - identifying their interests, perspective, options, BATNA, fears, tactics, questions they might ask, as well as the victory speech to their boss. Ask the question, If they get what they are asking for, what are they going to do with it? When a negotiation is about money (which is common as it’s often a proxy for other things), try to figure out how they would spend the money. Also, work on strengthening your own BATNA, or what your best alternative to negotiating an agreement, to increase confidence.
- Power is perception: As my negotiation professor Dr. K reminded us ad nauseum (and rightfully so), “If you think you have the power, you probably do.” Having a good BATNA gives the perception that you have options and that you can walk away. The BATNA is the best alternative choice not a collection of alternatives or the bottom line, as it is often confused. One caveat is that studies show that when people gain power, they lost perspective taking ability so power can cause one to forget to question assumptions and can make it hard to keep one’s eye on the prize.
- Ask more questions: They say you have one mouth and two ears so you should be listening twice as much as you talk. Questions test assumptions and are even more important if you’re sure you’re right. The classic example is that two people both want an orange so they decide to split it in half but if they had talked about their interests in the orange, they would have learned that one wanted the fruit and the other wanted the peel. Some questions to get started: What are you hoping to get out of this? or What bothers you about my idea? Sometimes it’s easier to get someone to criticize you than to describe their own interests. Spend about 20 minutes asking questions, collecting information before throwing out a number. Also, it’s human nature to be uncomfortable with silence. Use it to your advantage to get your partner talking.
- Style coordination is an art: You can be all things to all people if you know who you are and what’s being asked. The best negotiators really think through their style and adjust based on the other person and situation. An avoider has to approach a competitor very differently than they would a collaborator.
- Look for tactics, but use them: A tactic called out loses its power but they are also effective. For example, when asked a question you don’t want to answer, respond with another question. Know that “split the difference” usually means the person offering it is getting a better deal. When making concessions, you want to creep and get smaller because shrinking concessions mean you’re getting closer. And you can detect when someone lies through all sorts of body language indicators - tend to look up and to the right, more pauses in conversation, more “allness” – all, always, everyone, none, nobody, higher pitch voice, more self touching - like nose rubbing, and increased blinking. That of course isn’t a tactic, just a tip. Good luck!